Prague, 20 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary continues to devote much attention to developments in Asia. Indonesian President Suharto's promise, in a television speech yesterday, to leave office after new elections evokes considerable comment . And India's recent nuclear tests remain a subject of great interest for analysts.
GUARDIAN: Suharto still needs a shove
Britain's Guardian daily calls Suharto's vague commitment to resign the "last gasp of a despot," adding "he still needs a shove." In an editorial, the paper writes: "Suharto's grudging willingness to step down may have come much too late to save Indonesia from further turmoil. A decision taken tardily and reluctantly under external pressure is likely to require much more sustained effort before it is fulfilled." The editorial goes on: "The opposition will suspect that the plan he announced yesterday for a political transition may allow him not only to rig the new electoral law (promised by Suharto) and the parliamentary contest which is to follow, but to ensure a successor to his liking. Here is a man who only three months ago insisted on being chosen for a seventh term when his country was already plunged into a crisis for which he and his venal family are largely responsible." The paper then asks: "Who can be sure he will go quietly now?"
NEW YORK TIMES: As long as Suharto clings to power, political turmoil will continue
In its editorial today, the New York Times says Suharto delivered nothing but "vague promises." The paper writes: "Suharto's hazy pledge on Tuesday to hold elections and step down merely promises further indecision, political manipulation, and confrontation. (And) Suharto's plan for elections is anything but rapid and free (since) he wants parliamentarians and government appointees to vote on his successor." The editorial continues: "Indonesians should have the opportunity to select their president through direct balloting. If that reform is too great to
make during a crisis, the entire membership of the People's Consultative Assembly (parliament) should at least be chosen in free elections open to every political party."
The paper concludes: "As long as Suharto clings to power, political turmoil will continue. This can only encourage the military, the country's most powerful institution, to intervene, perhaps even by seizing power itself. For the moment, the army command appears to continue to back Suharto. It should avoid a direct political role and restrict itself to preventing looting and violence. Suharto's best service to his country now would be to set in motion a fully democratic transition and then resign."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The president is willing to gamble with danger
In Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung today, Stefan Klein says that "Suharto spoiled his swan song and now risks civil war with his offer of gradual retreat." Writing from Singapore, Klein observes: "It could have been the speech of his lifetime. With one sentence he could have struck a blow for freedom and given some hope to his suffering people. Instead, Suharto stuck to his old course, twisting and using all the tactics he could muster, playing for time." The commentary goes one: "The old man offered nothing (but) a gradual retreat: the passing of a new electoral law, the holding of parliamentary elections 'as quickly as possible,' and then presidential elections in which he would not run. This is a program of changes that would last months --far too long for the protest movement, which cannot wait, and is demanding immediate change." Klein concludes: "The possible outcome of this situation is clear. A civil war would be a repeat of the terrible scenes witnessed during Suharto's rise to power more than 30 years ago. That the president is willing to gamble with danger is the real message contained in his television broadcast. Therefore, it is not surprising that he is willing to drag down the whole country with him in the style of a true dictator."
ALGEMEEN DAGBLAD: Only the armed forces can trip him up
The Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad, published in Rotterdam, says Suharto "wants to go --but not immediately." The paper writes in an editorial: "The Indonesian head of state does not want to lose face and is playing for time in the hope that the situation will slowly calm down. That is why he has opted for a time consuming, well-covered retreat." The editorial also says: "The President's plan is not aimed at the students in revolt, nor at the people seized with unrest who are plundering, but exclusively at the armed forces. Only they can trip him up. The promise of an introduction of reforms on Suharto's part is not sincere either, since even before the last presidential elections he said he did not wish to serve for a full seven-year term. In practice," the paper concludes, Suharto's "latest plan means that he will resign only around the year 2000 or possibly after the turn of the millennium. This strategist resists giving in defeated."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE: India is setting out on an oppressive path
Turning to the continuing fall-out from India's unexpected nuclear tests last week, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung asks today in its editorial:
"Can there be nuclear blackmail only a week after the tests?" Its answer is yes. The paper writes: "India is setting out on an oppressive path, if it pursues the policy of its interior minister, who has just threatened neighboring Pakistan 'with completely new steps' unless it stops meddling in Kashmir." The FAZ goes on to say: "Since India now belongs to the club of the recognized nuclear powers, its relations to Pakistan must be seen in an entirely different light. No wonder that Islamabad sees itself as threatened by a nuclear power. True the Americans, Japanese and West Europeans have made considerable efforts in the last few days to hold the Pakistanis back from presenting India with a nuclear counter-statement. But reports from New Delhi indicate Islamabad will become a nuclear power as well. Unlike as in the past, the world community now has to pay attention to every new sign of South Asian discord, and if necessary take joint measures."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Religious passions are uncontrollable
The International Herald Tribune carries a commentary today from the Indian-born U.S. writer Ved Mehta, who evokes "the specter of a religious nuclear war" in the sub-continent. Mehta believes that China, far away "beyond the Himalayas," is only a secondary threat to India. He writes: "India's real enemy has always been Pakistan, and vice versa....For some reason, the most bitter wars are always internecine --wars between members of the same family or same tribe. And, of course, Pakistanis are all originally Indians. He continues: "Pakistan already has its own nuclear capability, and now there will be no way of stopping it from going ahead with nuclear tests. And because the conflict between India and Pakistan is rooted in religion and not in economic systems --unlike the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union-- the danger of nuclear is much greater." Mehta concludes: "Religious passions, once inflamed, are uncontrollable, and the capitals of India and Pakistan are only a few minutes away from each other by missile."
BOSTON GLOBE: The real danger of last week's tests is a Hindu-Muslim civil war
But two other U.S. commentators yesterday said that Communist China, because of the U.S.' beneficent policy toward it, played a big role in India's decision to go public with its nuclear capability. In the Boston Globe, columnist Jeff Jacoby wrote: "China has a special hold on the Clinton Administration. The Beijing dictatorship, we now know, was a key source of money for the Democratic Party and the Clinton-Gore (1996 presidential) campaign. Chinese militarism may threaten U.S. security interests in Asia, but this White House takes care of its friends. Not only has Clinton not condemned Beijing's nuclear proliferation, he has promoted it." Jacoby then asked: "Does anyone imagine that India would now be in the dog-house if it, too, had bought its way into the President's good graces?" He concluded, like Ved Mehta, that "the real danger of last week's tests is not an India-Pakistan nuclear war. It is a Hindu-Muslim civil war. Nothing is more urgent right now than turning down the volume --not hurling curses at India's head."
WALL STREET JOURNAL: Blame the U.S. for India's nukes
In the Wall Street Journal Europe, analyst Michael Ledeen said bluntly, "Blame the U.S. for India's nukes." He wrote: "U.S. policy toward China (which made it possible for Beijing to buy a vast range of militarily useful technology) made it all but inevitable that the Indians would modernize their atomic arsenal....No serious neighbor could fail to respond in kind to the Chinese military build-up." Further, he said: "Much of the technology that enabled India stealthily to develop bigger and better nuclear weapons came from America, thanks to an abrupt change in government policy in 1995 (which permitted) India to purchase American nuclear technology in unsafeguarded facilities. Previous presidents had refused to authorize such sales..." Ledeen concluded: "The world's two most populous nations are arming themselves with the best weapons American technology can design. America's own ability to influence events has been gravely weakened. And it owes a large part of this mess to its own folly."